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Nurse Compassion May Improve Mesothelioma Outcomes

counselingRecent research suggests that how people with lung cancers like pleural mesothelioma are treated by their oncology nurses can have a direct bearing on their treatment outcomes.

The news is based on a groundbreaking study conducted at two Chinese universities and published in Psychology Research and Behavior Management.

Empathy and Lung Cancer Survival

The study focused on 365 lung cancer patients who were cared for by 30 different nurses at a Beijing hospital between October 2016 and May 2017.

Researchers used a test called flow cytometry to measure the activity of cancer fighting immune system cells including T-cells, B-cells and natural killer (NK) cells. These cells are also activated in patients battling malignant mesothelioma and other cancers.

This “cellular immunity” was measured when the lung cancer patients were admitted for treatment and again when they were discharged.

Their nurses, meanwhile, were scored on their level of empathy using the Chinese version of a measurement tool called the Jefferson Scale of Empathy. They were then divided into high, moderate, and low empathy groups based on their JSE scores.

Nurse Attitude Impacts Cancer Outcomes

When they were admitted to the hospital, the lung cancer patients all showed a similar level of “cellular immunity”. But things began to change after they had been in the hospital for a while.

“At discharge, patients whose nurses were in the high empathy group reported significantly higher B-cell and NK-cell percentages than those whose nurses were in the low empathy group,” writes study author Ningxi Yang of Wuhan University.

Even after controlling for variables like patient demographics, their level of disease, and their lifestyle, the empathy of the lung cancer nurses was found to “significantly contribute” to patients’ levels of cancer-fighting cells.

Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: Similarities to Lung Cancer

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a lung-related cancer caused by exposure to asbestos dust. The earlier and more intensely a person was exposed to asbestos dust, the higher their lifetime risk of receiving a diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma.

Unlike other types of cancers that affect the lungs, pleural mesothelioma tumors do not arise in the lung tissue but on the mesothelial membrane (pleura) that surrounds the lungs.

As mesothelioma tumors grow, the pleura becomes less pliable and mesothelioma patients develop many of the same symptoms that lung cancer patients face, including chest pain and tightness, coughing, and shortness of breath.

The new findings on empathy may have important implications for nurses who care for patients with malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other cancers. The researchers conclude,

“The effect of oncology nurses’ empathy on cellular immunity was confirmed in lung cancer patients, suggesting empathy education, such as narrative medicine education, should be strengthened to improve patient outcome.”


Yang, Ningxi, et al, “Influence of oncology nurses’ empathy on lung cancer patients’ cellular immunity”, July 31, 2018, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, pp. 279-287

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